Sunday, February 28, 2016

This is my favorite part of Blaze of Glory: The Last Ride of the Western Heroes:

So a young boy runs into the Saloon and shouts, "Hey, Kid!"

And The Two-Gun Kid, The Outlaw Kid, Kid Colt and The Rawhide Kid, who are all sitting next to one another at the bar, answer in unison.

That scene is from the 2000 miniseries Blaze of Glory, written by John Ostrander and lushly drawn by Leonardo Manco, with imagery so beautifully rendered that his signature (and "Ostrander") appear almost at random throughout, generally attached to a particularly strong splash page.

I missed this series the first time around, despite it being published right around the time that Marvel was going through a millennial renaissance of sorts, with with the publisher drawing some of my favorite writers from DC and Vertigo (Grant Morrison on Marvel Boy and The X-Men) and launching their then-new "Ultimate" line, featuring writers Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar. Looking at the inside back cover, where the names of various important people working for "Marvel Enterprises, Inc" and the "Publishing Group" are listed in a neat stack, I only really see one name I know well, Avi Arad, and a few that I've heard of but can't link to faces or particular accomplishments.

I just recently discovered the series thanks to a confluence of factors: Secret Wars tie-in series 1872 and Ghost Racers piquing my interest in Red Wolf and the original Ghost Rider, respectively, and a brief, funny reference to Kid Colt on the TV show Agent Carter (Howard Stark had set up shop in Hollywood in order to try his hand at directing, with an adaptation of the old Marvel western hero's comic book adventures).

I'm glad I did; it's a pretty great little series.

Ostrander basically borrows the plot of The Magnificent Seven, an often-borrowed plot that was itself borrowed, and uses it as a rough framework in which he can fill out a cast with various Marvel Western heroes. These are each pretty thoroughly reimagined by Manco, to the point that the only characters one might recognize by flipping through are Red Wolf and Ghost Rider, and that's because the former wears a big, dead red wolf on his head and the latter dresses in all-white and rides a white horse (although I should note that Manco's scratchy, gritty, inky linework, incredible level of detail and propensity to render smoke and dust with fingerprints of ink make this a very dark book, to the point that even the whites are dark; the cover image is among the brightest in the entire book).

Ostrander too seems to add more modern psychological depth to all the characters he uses, although being fairly unfamiliar with all of them, it's difficult to tell which of the various traumas and mental illnesses attributed to the characters are his invention and which are merely more realistic portrayals of plot points from the original comics.

After a rather striking, grandiose, four-page history of the Old West, in which Ostrander and Manco stand the old Marvel-owned Western characters alongside real people like Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickock and BIlly The Kid on a two-page, turn-the-comic-sideways spread, the story begins in earnest.

It beings in 1885, in the town of Wonderment, peopled mostly by families of "Exodusters," ex-slaves freed by The Civil War who moved out West. It's there that Reno Jones has settled and chosen to raise his family, but, as is so often the case, the gunfighter isn't allowed to live in peace. Masked Nightriders begin attack the town on a regular basis, intent on driving everyone away and, if that fails, simply killing them all and burning it down, as their employer wants access to the nearby river for his mining business.

Seeking help, Jones and others begin recruiting gunfighters, some on purpose, some by accident: The Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt, The Two-Gun Kid, The Outlaw Kid, and, before it's all over, Gunhawk, Red Wolf and The Ghost Rider. Hey, what do you know? That adds up to seven exactly!

Oh, wait; Cale Hammer is in here, too. That kinda screws up the math a bit.

The four Kids help train the townspeople to fight to defend themselves, and each has little sub-plots to keep them busy. There are an escalating series of gunfights, leading to explosive climactic one in which the black hats are all eventually defeated, but at the cost of the lives of several of "the Western Heroes."

As Rawhide Kid rides off into the sunset–and toward a 2002 sequel series by the same creative team entitled Apache Skies and a controversial 2003 miniseries by Ron Zimmerman and John Severin, both on Marvel's then-new adult readers "Max" imprint–he's asked if all the death was worth it or not. He stoically responds:
Men die. Every single one of us. That's a fact and that's our fate. Only the legends are forever.
That's pretty indicative of the tone of the entire endeavor, which includes awe-struck narration about how bad-ass everyone is, and slightly more down-to-earth dialogue, consisting of cliches and cowboy slang (I really like the word "owlhoot," personally).

During the Kids' first battle against the Nightriders on the streets of Wonderment, Manco draws a series of four beautiful splash pages, depicting each in action, while Ostrander writes about them like Chris Claremont kicking off an issue of his old-school X-Men:
So it's not exactly great literature, but it's a damn fine looking book, and much of what is trite, cliche or corny about the plot can be laid at the feet of the genre. Ostrander and Manco obviously weren't looking to reinvent or deconstruct the Western here; they were just bringing Marvel's mid-twentieth century Western heroes into a more realistic, more up-to-date storyline celebrating them.

And they certainly succeeded in that. Plus, you know, there's that great "Hey, Kid!" joke.

It looks like Marvel collected the book just once, in 2002, and let it slide out of print. As was the case with Vengeance, I had a hard time tracking it down in trade, and the copy I finally got was a badly beaten-up one discarded from a library and sold to me by a third-party on Amazon.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lois Lane in The New 52-iverse

I've been thinking about Lois Lane more than usual lately, particularly in light of DC's announced but not yet detailed "Rebirth" initiative. It's not unreasonable to think that "Rebirth" will be more than just a marketing initiative, and will, in fact include some in-story way to bring an official close to the New 52 DC Universe, which launched in September of 2011.

The launch of the New 52 was a reboot of DC Universe continuity that lead to what was, in practice, a sort of half-assed line-wide equivalent of Marvel's millennial Ultimate line (That is, a reboot that re-designed the characters and started over with them...only, in DC's case, they didn't start from scratch, but introduced readers to the new universe en medias res, a few imaginary years into a largely "secret" continuity that would only gradually be revealed).

For the Superman books–mainly Action Comics, which re-re-re-re-retold Superman's origin, and Superman, set in the present–among the many big changes of the reboot was that of Superman's relationship with Lois Lane. Their marriage was dissolved, and, in fact, it never happened. These younger, less experienced versions of the characters weren't married, they weren't engaged, they weren't even dating, they didn't share in Superman's secret identity and there didn't even seem to be any chemistry, let alone romance, between the two.

As someone who is resistant to change in general, especially in comics where supposed fixes are often applied to things that aren't broken, I didn't really like the idea of Superman and Lois being de-married in a cosmic reboot. I liked them as full and equal partners, and thought their marriage actually contributed to making Superman distinct from so many of his super-peers (I also liked the fact that his parents were alive and he had a nice, healthy relationship with them; in The New 52, they were both dead).

There seemed to be two basic arguments for an unmarried Superman and Lois, however, one of which I find much more compelling than the other.

The first is the same that then-Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada used in trying to justify the in-story reboot of Spider-Man Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson's marriage in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, that somehow having married characters limits the story options and ages them in the mind of the readers. I wasn't convinced, particularly since, at the time, Marvel had a younger, unmarried version of Spider-Man specifically designed to be distinct from the "real" Spider-Man in their long-running, actually rather great Ultimate Spider-Man.

But I could see where Quesada was coming from, sort of. Peter Parker was first introduced as a teenager, and original readers watched him attend high school and college and grow up over the issues and years. Even more so than most of the first generation of Marvel Comics characters, he was meant to be a character that was an awful lot like the young readers, who were only a radioactive spider-bite away from being a Spider-Man themselves.

Superman was never intended to be that sort of character. He was a more aspirational and inspirational character; the ways in which young readers could see themselves in him were a combination of wish fulfillment and metaphor. Superman was a grown-up whose stories were meant to be read by children; he was a dad-like figure from the start (The idea of superheroes a reader could relate to wouldn't really come along for a few decades after he smashed that green car and made that poor guy on the cover of Action Comics #1 grab the sides of his head in shock).

If marriage to Lois "aged" Superman, it did so only by a few years, maybe. And anyway, who cares? (Especially in the 21st century, when most Superman are adults themselves and, I'd guess, many of them are much, much older than Superman himself, whether he's meant to be 25, 30 or 39.)

The other, more compelling argument for un-marrying Superman and Lois is that it would restore the peculiar love triangle that was at the core of the very first Superman comics, the idea that Lois Lane loved Superman but despised Clark Kent, and that Clark/Superman loved Lois, but he wanted her to love him as Clark, not Superman.

That, and how the secret identity played into their complicated relationship, may not actually be fundamental to Superman comics (certainly plenty of stories of the modern age worked just fine after Lois discovered Clark's secret, and after they were married; and the argument could be made that doing away with the love triangle and the secret identity issue made the feature a lot less weird and its gender politics a lot less off-putting to a modern, audience composed of grown-ups), but they were certainly early elements, fuel for decades worth of stories in many different media, and, when The First Couple of Comics finally did tie the knot in 1996, there were certainly objections to the event, on the grounds that it was just too drastic a change (De-marrying Superman and Lois was a feature of the DC ixnay-ed "Superman 2000" proposal by Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar and Tom Peyer).

So I find it interesting that, now that we're looking at what could very well be the end of the New 52 continuity–the choice of the word "Rebirth" calls to mind Geoff Johns' Green Lantern: Rebirth and The Flash: Rebirth, both of which restored old status quos for those franchises through in-story events and minor retcons–that DC didn't really do anything with an unmarried Lois and Clark in the four years and change of the New 52.

Rather than restoring the Clark/Lois/Superman love triangle, the two were essentially platonic friends and occasional co-workers (Clark spent part of his career working at Daily Planet rival The Daily Star, and part of his career as a blogger). In the New 52, Lois Lane seems to have been Superman's Pal Lois Lane, his other best friend in the field, a sort of second, female Jimmy Olsen.

Wonder Woman fulfilled the role of love interest that Lois once played, as she and Superman were an item for just about three and a half years, first locking lips in August of 2012. If the New 52-iverse is coming to a close of sorts, than that would mean DC spent almost five years with an unmarried Superman, and the decision to decouple him from Lois had nothing to do with restoring what some might see as a core element of the character and concept, but instead so that he could date Wonder Woman.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: February 24th

Batman & Robin Eternal #21 (DC Comics) This issue, scripted by James Tynion and drawn by the art team of Tony S. Daniel and Sandu Florea, is set entirely in the vague, "Several Years Ago" flahback past, and narrated by Batman. It details the secret origin of Harper Row, or, more precisely, how Batman chose to deal with an 11-year-old child that Mother had selected to be his next Robin, and the secret origin of Mother herself.

The story, on its own, offers an interesting meditation on some of the basic questions about Batman and his Robins and, perhaps, on the idea of genre standbys like sidekicks and personal tragedy-as-a-motivation-for-heroics. Of course, it can't be taken on its own, as it's just a chapter in a Batman comic that is all about Batman's confused and confusing New 52 continuity.

I...couldn't quite make sense of this. The flashback must be set somewhere in Year One or Year Two of Batman's career, at which point Harper Row is 11 and Dick is 15. She was meant to be his next Robin, but he chose not to take her in, for fear that it would only fulfill Mother's philosophy of child soldier-making, and so his next Robin would end up being Jason Todd...who, like Dick, seems to be quite a few years older than Harper, who I guess is only 15 to 17-years-old now? That can't be right, can it?

I actually found the part where Batman decided not to take Harper and Cullen Row in (could he even do that, given that they still had a parent?) because he didn't want Harper to be so close to the Batcave and its secrets, and decided that the best thing he, an actual billionaire, could do to help these kids after the death of their mother was to capture there father and threaten him into being a good dad to be pretty hilarious.

Daniel's art is...well, it's Daniel's art. The crime-fighting montage on pages two and three includes a panel that I was fairly certain depicted a motorcycle chase in which The Ventriloquist was driving a motorcycle while Scarface fired at the Dynamic Duo with a machine gun from the sidecar, but, on closer examination, I realized that the little guy in the tiny, blurry, poorly-drawn sidecar was actually The Penguin.

As usual, then, Batman & Robin Eternal is rather frustratingly mediocre, although this particular issue at least toyed with some interesting ideas, and gave me some stuff to think about. Mostly if this is really what co-plotter Scott Snyder always had in mind for Harper's origin, or if this entire storyline is something of a retcon of the story he had originally written for her in his head.

Like, if Damian Wayne hadn't proven so popular, and DC decided not to resurrect him, would Harper have been Robin V? Was she always meant to have this secret history with the Batman? Was she created with a tragic backstory involving an international conspiracy to kill her mom? Hmmm...

Saga #34 (Image Comics) Still no explanation as to why The Will got so fat, but his hallucinations of The Stalk do get kinda sorta explained.

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #11 (IDW) I love the story commentary that follows each issue of Tom Scioli and John Barber's Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, which is still the best ongoing, serially-published comic book on the stands, but it does present a problem–after I read it, I feel that reviewing (or even just "reviewing") the issue is a little harder, as they tend to spell out all of their influences, inspirations and allusions, and I hate to just parrot them.

This issue, for example, features a 12-page sequence that flashes back to Duke's training of his little brother Falcon that is an extended–if hyper-compressed–reaction to and commentary on 1980s era military movies, including all of the expected scenes, but Scioli and Barber actually name the specific films each allusion refers to.

I can say that it's hard to believe that the sequence is only 12 pages long. Well, 11-and-a-half pages. Especially since two of those pages are splash pages, and some have as few as three or four panels on them. I don't think I'll ever understand exactly how Scioli can make so few panels and so few pages tell so much story, but every issue of this comic book reads much longer than it's actual page count. This issue, for example, felt like it contained an entire graphic novel between a framing sequence, but there are only 20 pages of story in this issue, and many of them are splashes or double-page splashes.

As for that framing sequence, Cybertron itself transforms, and the astronomically huge robot it becomes is apparently preparing to feed on the sun.

The biggest, craziest, headiest, most ambitious comic being produced today continues to be big, crazy, heady and ambitious.

I should also note that this issue not only features Big Lob (with bigger hair than in G.I. Joe: The Movie and Budo (made awesome by the accentuation of his silliness; I love the background detail of him getting up in the middle of the night to watch Duke and Falcon fight and feeling the need to put on his dumb samurai helmet the way you or I might put on a sweatshirt), but also Quarrel, a Joe I have never, ever heard of (She was apparently a European figure, based on a repaint of Scarlet pieces). She stands in for Jinx in a weird, word-for-word recreation of a scene from G.I. Joe: The Movie (which of course introduced Falcon), and is introduced as "A Swiss Army Knife Expert," which, well, just let that sink in. Of all the weapons to be an expert with...

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

So it turns out that Marvel's 2011 miniseries Vengeance is pretty much the best thing ever.

When Marvel first solicited the six-part miniseries Vengeance back in spring of 2011, I remembered thinking that it might be something to check out in trade eventually. It was written by Joe Casey, a very good writer of comic books, and it was drawn by Nick Dragotta, a very good drawer of comic books, and while I didn't have any idea of what it was about–something about the children of supervillains?–a strong creative team is pretty much all you really need to get me to check a book out. In the good old days of $2.99 Marvel comics, I probably would have bought it and read it off the shelves every month, since Marvel had by that point already increased the price of almost all of their books to $3.99, I put it on my Wait For The Trade List.

About five years passed before I finally got around to that trade. I don't know if it's just me personally, or if this phenomenon extends to other potential consumers, but often times once I move a comic book series from my mental Buy Serially Upon Each Issue's Release list to my Wait For The Trade List, I may never actually get around to buying and reading that trade.

I actually had a pretty hard time even finding a collection of Vengeance, which is apparently out of print now (?), and the copy I ended up ordering from a third-party vendor on Amazon was a rather beat-up copy that was discarded from the collection of a county library.

When I finally read it, I was shocked: It was great.

Marvel's published a lot of great comics in the past five years or so, many of the ones I've enjoyed the most being the quirkier, comedy series, with Jonathan Hickman's Avengers and New Avengers being the outlier, a big, crazy, melodramatic, high-stakes, totally serious superhero saga. Vengeance is closer to those Avengers books than the likes of, say, Superior Foes of Spider-Man or the last volume of She-Hulk or Squirrel Girl, both in its relative seriousness and its grand scale. But it's a really wild story, with incredibly disparate, constantly-moving pieces that only gradually come together to form a whole.

It's got deep connections to the history of the Avengers, exploiting a great, unexplored concept from Avengers #1 that apparently Casey was the first person to think had potential, it's got a huge cast of new characters, it's got interesting takes on many long-lived Marvel characters, and it's maybe the single coolest comic Marvel has published since Grant Morrison left the publisher to return to DC (Interestingly, Casey uses two of the characters Morrison co-creted for his New X-Men run, and another of the ensemble cast bears some resemblance to Morrison and J.G. Jones' Marvel Boy; hell, the main heroes in the comic even reminded me of The Invisibles a bit).

Now, the precise reason that I found the series' quality so shocking was that it didn't seem to have much in the way of an impact on the Marvel Universe or within the Marvel comics line. With the exception of the Casey and Dragotta America Chavez/Miss America–who went on to star in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's 2013-2014 Young Avengers, and then Secret Wars' iteration of A-Force is now appearing in The Ultiamtes–no aspect of this comic was carried forward. That seems strange in large part not only because the series was so damn good, and not only because it was so damn ripe for further exploitations, but because it all but ends with the promise of future adventures, one of the leads looking at the reader and smirking that we haven't heard the last of them.
But apparently we had heard the last of them–or, at least, everyone but Miss America.

What happened?


Before pondering that, perhaps it's best to discuss what Vengeance is about.

The plot concerns three different teams of super-powered characters, each with their own agendas that are at cross-purposes.

The first of these teams is The Teen Brigade. That is the team that kinda sorta accidentally created the Avengers in 1963's Avengers #1, when teenager Rick Jones and his fellow young radio enthusiasts (nerds) tried to radio The Fantastic Four and alert them of the need to stop The Hulk, but the message was instead picked up by Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man and The Wasp.

According to The Ultimate Nullifier, the leader of the Teen Brigade of Vengeance, his line-up is but one of the nine or ten Brigades that have existed since World War I, "each one committed to the heroes of their era without them ever being aware of just how much is actually happening behind the scenes."

The Ultimate Nullifier is a young, sexy, brash, Marvel Boy-esque hero who wears a tight-fitting version of Captain America's chain-mail and star shirt, which reveals his sleeves of tattoos. While he's got some sweet martial arts movies, his weapons of choice are a pair of space age-pistols that temporarily rob any super-person they hit of their superpowers (thus the codename). His Brigade includes what appear to be a dozen or so teen hackers, but the name characters include the super-strong, invulnerable, flying powerhouse Miss America (whose personality here seems completely different from the quiet, angry version of Young Avengers) and former Xavier Academy students Beak and Angel, both of whom lack their physical mutations and powers, because this was published during the "No More Mutants" era of X-Men history, falling as it did between House of M and Avengers Vs. X-Men.

The second team is The Defenders, specifically the iteration of the team from the Casey co-written 2008 miniseries, The Last Defenders. That is, She-Hulk, The Son of Satan (in a somewhat goofy-looking superhero costume), Atlantean warlord Krang and the new Nighthawk, former SHIELD agent Joaquin Pennysworth (with original Nighthawk Kyle Richmond as their behind-the-scenes man). If the Teen Brigade fights in the shadows, The Defenders fight in the limelight, like most superhero teams, and are working to defend the status quo, whether they think of their mission in those terms or not.

And the third team is The Young Masters (of Evil): The Executioner, Egghead, The Radioactive Kid, Mako and a new, female version of The Black Knight, complete with her own Ebony Blade. Their goal? To kill off the older generation of supervillains in order to replace them, in a sort of Darwinian power-play.

That's already a lot of plates spinning, but Casey has more, including The In-Betweener (given a new, younger and hipper form), who is pursued by a numberless hoard of voracious extra-dimensional monsters; a World War II Era experiment spearheaded by The Red Skull to see see if ordinary people can be turned into superheroes against heir will; and a former SHIELD agent whose mind is in the body of another, older man and...Well, it's complicated, okay?

Each issue has at least one villainous guest-star–Magneto, Lady Bullseye, Doctor Octopus and some of the Sinister Six, little kid Loki and Doctor Doom's son Kristoff–who are generally the targets of the Young Masters in one way or another.

While the plot may be somewhat dizzying–and I can't recall the last time I've read a superhero comic where I literally had no idea what might happen on the next page, let along the next issue–what the series was actually about is a lot more clear. Essentially, it's a story of the clash of generations, as the young heroes and young villains each have different world views about their predecessors, and how to proceed in a world that needs changed as much as it does protected. Beyond a simple generation gap conflict, Vengeance is more about the shock of the new, which stresses that such shock is itself something of an endless cycle. Remember, part of the action takes place during World War II, while in the present the Young Masters of the 21st century want to replace the old order of Baby Boomer villains.


But enough about Casey; how about that Dragotta? His work on the series is pretty incredible. Not only does he have a wide variety of characters to draw–one often hears how much more challenging it is to draw a team book than to draw a solo book, but here Dragotta's not just drawing a team book, but a teams book–and particular iterations of them to stick with (Doctor Octopus, for example, is the one whose body is almost completely useless, from just before the time he "died"), he also gets to/has to design a whole mess of new characters.

I've already mentioned Ultimate Nullifier, although I suppose I should also mention the fact that he looks an awful lot like a Paul Pope character.

Dragotta's Miss America is as different from later designs of her as her personality here is seems to later uses of the character. A statuesque Amazon threatening to fall out of her overly-fashionable star-spangled gear, I occasionally found myself wondering why she wore such a skimpy outfit into her many battles (America does about 90% of the Teen Brigades battling) until I realized that the way Dragotta draws her top draped over her breasts forms Captain America's original shield.
That's kind of ingenious, actually.

My favorite of the new characters, at least from a strictly design point-of-view, is The Black Knight, who wears medieval armor integrated with modern clothes (like a tank top with the Knight's sigil on it). I liked that the armor was such a specific, distinct style of armor though. Like, Dragotta didn't just draw her with the sort of armor that might immediately appear in your imagination when you think of a knight, but it looks like he went through books on armor to find the coolest, or the least-frequently-drawn-in-comics style.

As I mentioned earlier, Son of Satan wears his Last Defenders superhero costume in this series, and while I'm not crazy about the costume (the helmet seems a little too football, and what's with the second set of down-pointing horns? Are they supposed to suggest an inverted pentagram? Because they don't quite do so), Dragotta's plain clothes Daimon Hellstrom is also pretty awesome...
...and when he is suited-up for superheroics, he's at least always driving his chariot pulled by flaming demon horses. If only he had his pitchfork...! (I confess I'm a huge fan of the character's original iteration and comics appearance, but find the character getting more and more watered-down with every appearance after those initial ones).


So, to reiterate: Great story, great art, great new characters and an all-around a great concept.

So why did Casey and Dragotta's story of the Teen Brigade last exactly six issues, and generate no sequels miniseries or an ongoing? Why haven't we seen more of any of these characters, aside from Miss America, whose presence in books like Young Avengers would seem to indicate a break with the Brigade?

I don't know, but I can offer some guesses.

The most immediate problem is that the book was called Vengeance and not, like, anything else. An abstract word more-or-less chosen at random, Vengeance is essentially a meaningless title: Marvel might as well have called the series Justice, Sadness, Empathy, Weather, Jurisprudence, Villains, Chairs, Horses or Comic Book Miniseries.

For the life of me, I can't imagine why it wasn't called The Teen Brigade, particularly since that seems like something a major comic book publisher would want to use as the title of a comic every decade or so, if only to keep the trademark or whatever. Did they think that sounded too cheesy? What about just Brigade, or were they afraid someone might confuse the book with Rob Liefeld's stupid-looking book 1992 book with the same name?
Sorry; did I just hurt your eyes?
Something with the word "Avengers" somewhere in the title might have also made some sense, particularly form a marketing point-of-view: There was no Young Avengers comic being published at the time, or if they didn't want to use that title for a new team, they could have gone with New Young Avengers or All-New Young Avengers.

But really, Teen Brigade would have been fine and, honestly, Vengeance is about as generic and meaningless a title as one could choose, meaning they could hardly have done worse if they tried.

The covers, ironically, also seem like they might have presented a problem. These are the covers:

As you can see, they are just a half-dozen portrait-style images of bit-players in the overall story. Magneto and The Red Skull do appear, the latter on quite a few pages. Bullseye's corpse appears in issue two, and Lady Bullseye shows up to chase the Young Masters away from the body (a still alive Bullseye, like the one on the cover, appears in exactly one panel, illustrating a reference to the character when he was still alive. Doctor Octopus appears, but not that version of the character. Likewise Loki appears, but not in the form shown on the cover. And as for Doom, well, the image seems to be that of Victor Von Doom, but the guy in the Doom armor in this comic book series is his son.

Oh, and here's the variant, which shows the six characters apparently teaming up, which has even less to do with the series:
Why publish a miniseries featuring three superhero teams and not put any of those teams or any of those characters on the covers?

Well, there's a three-paragraph afterword of sorts by editor Tom Brennan explaining the genesis of the series which, apparently, all came down to those covers.

"Late last year, Marvel Editorial had a wonderful problem," Brennan's piece beings. "We had come into possession of the six pieces you see above spotlighting our most famous villains and wanted to use them as covers for a project, but couldn't figure out what that project could be."

Brennan showed the pieces to Casey and asked if he had any ideas, and this is the story that resulted. In retrospect, it seems more like those six villains were worked–or perhaps shoehorned–into Casey's story, rather than serving as the starting point from which all this business with the Teen Brigade and Young Masters and Defenders and The In-Betweener was extrapolated from, but, at least according to Brennan, these images, as little as they have to do with the story they covered, were the reason Marvel published it at all.

Finally, aside from a lame, meaningless title and generic covers that didn't even hint at the contents of the comics, I wonder if Vengeance wasn't also simply a victim of poor timing.

Looking back, the first issue of the series was solicited for July of 2011, the same month that Marvel's crossover event series Fear Itself published its fourth issue (and there were 11 different miniseries tie-ins being published that month, plus most of the Marvel Universe line of books were also tying into Fear Itself that month), while the Spider-Man franchise was heading into the "Spider-Island" event and the X-titles were facing the upheaval of "Schism." When Marvel solicited the sixth and final issue of the series for its December 2011 release in late September, they were already referring to the book as "a sleeper hit," so sales of the first issue or two must have been pretty poor.

Incidentally, not only was it competing against a super-crowded field of Marvel books (including a relaunch of The Defenders, which would have replaced the team in this series), September 2011 was the launch of DC's New 52 initiative. There couldn't have been that much oxygen left for such a strange series as this to breathe, particularly when it was being essentially un-marketed.

But whatever the reason we're not reading the 50th issue of Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta's Teen Brigade this month*, Vengeance is a great series, and you should hunt it down if you haven't yet read it.

*Aw, who am I kidding? There's no way a Marvel series could reach a 50th issues these days. Even if the miniseries lead directly into an ongoing, chances are Marvel would have already relaunched it with a new #1 at least once before Secret Wars, during which they would have canceled it like they did all of their titles and then relaunched it again. So, if Marvel was publishing a theoretical Teen Brigade book, we'd probably be on, like, issue #3 of its third or fourth volume by now.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Review: Catwoman Vol. 7: Inheritance

Catwoman Vol. 7: Inheritance contains the second half of writer Genevieve Valentine and artists Garry Brown and David Messina's short-lived, new direction for Catwoman (the character) and Catwoman (the comic book), a direction that ultimately only filled two collections: This one, and the preceding Volume 6: Keeper of The Castle. Together, they tell a complete, relatively self-contained, rather solid story about a powerful woman reluctantly wielding even more power than she's used to, and in completely different ways.

It was a direction that was always going to be a temporary one, but I wonder if it had truly run its course, or if the shift to yet another new direction was just another case of editorial panic in the face of less-than-expected sales, a herky-jerky over-correction in the opposite direction of the sort that has characterized most of the New 52 books that aren't Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's one creative team, one direction, almost five-year, best-selling run on Batman. (Valentine was the third ongoing writer on Catwoman, following runs by Judd Winick and Ann Nocenti, and, as per usual, there were rather frequent changes in artists, as fill-in artists would pop in to support the work of Guillem March or Rafa Sandoval.)

In fact, this new direction seemed to be inspired both by its new-ness and it's temporariness. Just before the launch of the Snyder and James Tynion VI co-plotted, 52-issue weekly series Batman Eternal, there was a weird "flash-forward" issue of Batman meant to intrigue readers about how radically Gotham City was going to change during the course of the series, featuring Harper Row (a one-time popular candidate to replace the temporarily late Damian Wayne as the new Robin) as a new character Bluebird and Selina Kyle not as super-thief Catwoman, but as a plain-clothes, real world-style crime boss.

And that was the direction of Valentine's run. During the course of Batman Eternal, readers discovered the true identity of Selina Kyle's father, long-imprisoned, old-school mob boss Rex "The Lion" Calabrese, and, after Carmine Falcone and The Penguin's turf war ended with them both losers, Selina hung up her cat-suit for a business suit to somewhat reluctantly become the new kingpin of crime in Gotham City. Her goal? To minimize the damage the warring crime families did to the city, and try to make them as much a force of good as possible...while still being, you know, organized crime families.

See? That's a pretty unusual direction to go with Catwoman. Valentine's run was tightly, even elaborately plotted, and though there was first-person narration from Selina's point-of-view throughout the book, plot seemed to get greater emphasis than characterization.

In this volume, Selina tries to hang on to control of Gotham's gangs after the loss of one of her cousins and the loss of Batman, whose apparent "death" is addressed about midway through (somewhat clumsily, I'm afraid, and it will likely date this collection to a degree, as it will be tied to the Robo-Bat era of Batman comics). She's facing a major challenge from Roman "Black Mask" Sionis, who has allied himself with The Penguin and The Hasigawa Family, but has allies of her own in Eiko Hasigawa, who has taken up the mantle of Catwoman; The Penguin, who is secret on both sides of the gang war; and, later in the book, Killer Croc.

I hate to call a book like this "realistic," because it does feature a crocodile man and a policeman in a robot battle suit, but it is down to earth in a way that almost dampens the explosively, colorful nature of the characters. The Penguin, for example, is just a well-dressed, fat old man with a big nose, with no lunatic-fascination with birds r umbrellas, not even a casino/nightclub shaped like an iceberg with pools of seals in the lobby. The Black Mask has the black skull face he wore in animated series The Batman and towards the end of the pre-Flashpoint DCU (circa "War Games,") rather than his original mask, and his gang is just a bunch of random, central casting thugs, rather than guys forced to wear masks by their insane boss.

This is a bit of a blessing, and a bit of a curse, I suppose. It allows Valentine to play the crime story straight, and demand a comic lead by Catwoman and filled with various Bat-villains be taken seriously, but it's also dulls the characters and the milieu quite a bit.

Messina's art, expertly colored by Lee Loughridge to reflect the tone of each scene, is a nice balance between DC house-style superheroic art and a more real-world look, but it's never quite as accomplished or as exciting as Kevin Wada's covers, or all the variant covers collected in the back gallery (By Javier Pulido, Ben Caldwell, Des Taylor, Robbi Rodriguez, Darwyn Cooke and Emanuela Lupacchino).

I suspect Valentine had to wrap-up her story up perhaps a little quicker than originally expected (or at least hoped) as some of the sub-plots get less attention at their conclusion and resolution than in their build-up (particularly the rather tossed-off exit Spoiler plot), but everything does get resolved satisfactorily enough. By the time the trade reaches its last few pages, and Selina has passed on her duties as head of The Calabrese Family, eliminated Black Mask, ended her relationship with Eiko and put her Catwoman costume on to ride her motorcycle out of town (With no luggage or cats, apparently), the character, and the book, are more or less back where they were before the beginning of Valentine's run in a way that feels logical (Well, except for Selina's lack of luggage).

Economically, the Catwoman-as-crime boss direction must not have worked for DC, as the next writer was old school superhero writer Frank Tieri, and he kept Selina in her costume as she resumed more superhero-style adventures. That didn't work either, however, as sales to comics shops not only continued to decline at the end of the Valentine/Messina run, they dropped drastically. According to the sales chart analysis offered at The Beat, comic shops ordered an estimated 21,600 issues of the last issue of the Valentine run, and then slashed their orders down to an estimaed 15,000 for the start of the Tieri run.

When DC culls their superhero line and relaunches what's left with new #1s as part of the June "Rebirth" initiative, there won't be a new Catwoman. This volume of the series is therefore set to conclude with May's issues #52. For perspective, the original, 1993-launched volume of the monthly Catwoman comics lasted 94 issues (almost all of which were penciled by Jim Balent), while the 2002-launched second volume lasted 82 issues. I'm sure this won't be the last Catwoman monthly DC tries, as this is only the third time a monthly has been cancelled. She should have six more lives to go.

Friday, February 19, 2016

DC's May previews reviewed...and "Rebirth" discussed as little as possible, through a great deal of willpower on my part

Just as I was preparing to write this month's column, I saw that DC finally, officially announced its plans for its "Rebirth" initiative, which will cut down on a lot of what I would have written here had I put this together the day they released their solicits, rather than today (For example, the absence of Scott Snyder, the fact that many of the books sound like they are shipping their final issues, even though there's no "FINAL ISSUE" in the solicits and so on).

This isn't the place to discuss "Rebirth," especially since creative teams haven't been announced, but as a cheapskate, I am very happy about the return to the $2.99 price point line-wide, and I'm intrigued by the bi-weekly schedule, even though I worry how that will affect the artists (hopefully, each bi-weekly book will have two different art teams, and they will do every other arc, rather than every other issue). I'm still more intrigued by some of the titles (Super Sons?!), and the fact that some books I assumed would be canceled are still around (Batman Beyond, Earth 2, Deathstroke, Green Arrow, a Constantine book), but I'm glad some of them are (Well, just Gotham Academy really; that's the only low-selling book I would really miss if it went away).

I've read what Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns have said about the initiative and, man, I don't know. While I'm cautiously optimistic, these are still the same guys who were in charge of the DC line, more or less, for the reboots and refocusing that went on with Identity Crisis/Countdown/Infinite Crisis/52, and then the hard reboot of The New 52, then the re-focusing of "DC You," and now this, which seems to be a correction of the mistakes of The New 52, which they saw at the time as a correction to the mistakes of the DC Universe leading up to The New 52 (which they were responsible for), but it's still the same guys in the driver's seat, the same people who keep breaking the vase that are gluing it back together, you know?*

I'm also a little alarmed about the prospects of some sort of in-story cosmic re-set button being hit now, after DC hit that button at the end of Flashpoint (although never explained what the fuck the three universes merging was all about and what Pandora's deal was), and during Multiversity and during Convergence (again, without explaining what exactly happened, other than that Crisis On Infinite Earths was kinda sorta undone), and those last two happened pretty much simultaneously.

Anyway, that's stuff for another post. For now, let's look at the last weeks of The New 52.

The variant theme for this month is a particularly weak one: Cover versions of the covers of the first issues of the 11 New 52 titles that launched in September 2011 and are still around. You can see them all here. Oddly, only a handful have anything in the way of change, like, for example, Billy Tan drawing Sinestro in his Sinestro Corps costume instead of the Green Lantern costume that was on the cover of Green Lantern #1, or Ben Oliver drawing Superman in his current costume rather than the T shirt, jeans and mini-cape that Rags Morales drew him wearing on the cover of Action Comics #1. In many cases, they are just the exact same image, only drawn more poorly, like, say, David Finch redrawing Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman #1 costume (I wonder why he didn't bother drawing her in the current costume he designed?). Of all of them, I think only the covers of Batgirl (above) and Detective Comics are at all improved.

But enough prelude, let's take a look at what looks notably good, what looks notably bad and what looks notably perplexing in DC's solicits for May of this year (as per usual, you can read the complete solicits here).

Written by PETER J. TOMASI
On sale MAY 11 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T...
“Super League” continues—as two Supermen meet at last: pre-New 52 Superman meets the current Clark. A force seeking to end both Men of Steel brings them together, but divided they may fall as one Superman must choose the safety of his family before himself.

All of the Super-books in May will be telling chapters of a single story entitled "Super League," in which The New 52 Superman meets the Superman character from Superman: Lois & Clark, who the solicits insist on referring to as "pre-New 52 Superman."

That's not accurate, and the fact that they keep doing so is a little grating. That second Superman, the one with the beard and black, cape-less costume, is the the pre-New 52 Superman, the post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint one, who spent a year in a domed city cut off from the rest of his world throughout the events of Convergence (and went back in time to thwart the Crisis On Infinite Earths continuity rejiggering in some way), and then spent five-to-seven years living in secret with wife Lois and son Jonathan in the New 52-iverse. In other words, he's essentially just a random, alternate dimension version of Superman; he may have started as "the pre-New 52 Superman," but once you add six-to-eight years to him, he's no longer the same character.

You see Babs Tarr's cover of Adam Hughes' Batgirl #1 cover at the top of the post; that one is the variant. Above is Tarr's regular cover for Batgirl #52, which I like a whole lot better.

Written by ALAN GRANT
On sale JUNE 8 • 320 pg, FC, $24.99 US
Arkham Asylum is known for its lunatic inmates, and, now, one in particular: Batman. After the murder of a police officer, the Caped Crusader has been sentenced to Arkham Asylum, where a serial killer lurks the halls. Can Batman capture this knife-wielding fiend or will his enemies reach him first? Collecting the classic BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT #1-12.

Launched as a third, in-continuity, ongoing monthly Batman comic in 1992 (Legends of The Dark Knight then being exclusively devoted to telling quasi-canonical, "Year One"-era stories), the original aim of Shadow of The Bat seemed to be to give the Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle creative team a new home after runs on both Detective and Batman. I remember being very excited at the time of the launch, because a) I was a huge fan of the Grant/Breyfogle team and b) At the time, it's not like there were that many opportunities to start a brand-new Batman comic from the very first issue.

Unfortunately, Breyfogle didn't stick around too long, and only drew the first five of the twelve issues collected herein. The first four of those issues would be the initial story arc, "The Last Arkham," which I've discussed before as being a pretty solid basis for some Batman movie somewhere down the line. That's the one where Batman gets committed to the newly rebuilt, supposedly inescapable Arkham Asylum in order to figure out how a serial killer committed there seems to be able to continually commit killings outside its walls at whim. That's the story arc that first introduced Mr. Zsasz, who became a remarkably popular reoccurring villain, particularly considering that he seemed to be a more-or-less tossed-off creation (albeit one with an interesting visual hook). It also introduced Jeremiah Arkham, and featured a then-rare team-up with Nightwing.

That's followed by a one-issue story entitled (and starring) "The Black Spider," a "last" Black Spider story, although he would later appear alive in the poorly-researched Identity Crisis.

Tim Sale is artist who draws the bulk of the remaining pages. That's the three-issue "The Misfits" story arc I've discussed here before, in which Catman, Killer Moth and Calendar Man team-up with a new villain to take on Batman and Robin. There's also a two-issue story arc entitled "The Human Flea" drawn by Vince Giarrano (my favorite non-Breyfogle contributor to the series; it introduced a new, teenage character by that name that I was always disappointed never returned in the pages of Robin as a villain or vigilante). Two single issues round out the collection, one drawn by Dan Jurgens and the other by Mike Collins.

I'll be interested to see if DC publishes a volume 2, as the next year would find the title drawn into the Batman line's then-status quo; Breyfogle returns for one issue, than Joe Staton draws two issues, and then we issues in which Batman II Jean-Paul Valley takes over, while a paralyzed Batman begins his globe-trotting quest to find his kidnapped lover Dr. Shondra Kinsolving (minor Batman villain The Tally Man and British superhero The Hood, who played a remarkably large role during Grant Morrison's Batman, Inc series, are both introduced by Grant and his collaborators during the second year of Shadow).

Written by JEFF PARKER
Art and cover by EVAN “DOC” SHANER
Jonny Quest variant cover by STEVE RUDE
Space Ghost variant cover by BILL SIENKIEWICZ
Action Heroes variant cover by JOE QUINONES
Herculoids cover variant by AARON LOPRESTI
On sale MAY 18 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with seven covers. Please see the order form for details.
When the adventurous and inquisitive Jonny Quest and his adoptive brother Hadji make a startling discovery in the swamplands of Florida, they are pulled into an epic struggle between the Space Rangers and a dangerous villain who threatens the galaxy. Now it’s up to the combined forces of Team Quest, Inter-Nation Security, Space Ghost, and a host of Hanna-Barbera’s greatest action heroes to stop him and save their universe! Don’t miss the start of this new, monthly series that features character designs by comics superstar Darwyn Cooke and kicks off with an extra-sized story and a wraparound cover!

This is the most promising of the fairly insane-looking Hanna-Barbera cartoons-for-grown-ups comics that DC recently announced. The thought of a series similar to this has actually crossed my mind a couple of times, as when I saw Alex Ross' painting of many of these characters in a big, group action shot that is in the coffee table art book of his, or when Joe Kelly and Ariel Olivetti did their surprisingly straight 2005 miniseries featuring Space Ghost and, most recently, when I watched the 2013 direct-to-DVD movie Scooby-Doo: Mask of The Blue Falcon.

I say this one looks promising for a couple of reasons, the first of which that there are so many damn characters and concepts, each of which can (and, in some cases has) carry a comic book by themselves that the creative team need not worry about getting each and everyone right; there is an automatic epic scale to this, and should be enough going on that it can coast pretty far on character appearances alone.

More importantly, there's the creative team; you couldn't ask for a better one than Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner, the latter of whom has a clean, elegant, almost Toth-like line that makes him absolutely perfect for many of these characters (and whose contributions to a few recent events has been by far the best part of those events). (That said, I'm a little surprised that Alex Ross wasn't involved, as his tweaks to some of these characters in the aformentioned painting were pretty stellar. His Dyno-Mutt especially, although Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt seem to be sitting this one out. Maybe DC and Ross are fighting? He does seem to be doing plenty of covers for Marvel at the moment.)

And, if you read the whole damn thing, you'll notice the designs are by Darwyn Cooke, who is as good a designer as he is an artist (and who DC reaaalllly shoulda asked to handle the New 52 costumes instead of Jim Lee).

I normally cut out all of the variants when I re-post solicits here for commentary purposes (and I did cut out the mention of the "Blank" and "Coloring book" variants), but left up the others because that is one fine line-up of characters.


You know, I wonder what Jonny Quest looks like in a post-Venture Bros world? Like, I'm sure there are plenty of people who have seen Venture Bros who have never, ever seen a single episode of Jonny Quest, which was a cartoon of my mom's generation, not mine (but I came of age during the early years of Cartoon Network, which is the only reason I'm familiar with it.)

On sale JUNE 1• 168 pg, FC, $16.99 US
In the wake of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, the heroes of the DC Universe must find a new purpose and direction in the battle for justice! When G. Gordon Godfrey arrives on behalf of Darkseid to create a hate campaign that outlaws super-heroic activities, the world’s greatest find themselves fighting the very people they swore to protect! Don’t miss this new edition collecting the 6-issue miniseries, including the first appearance of the modern Suicide Squad!

Ha, "first appearance of the modern Suicide Squad" is hardly the way I would have referred to Legends, but I guess that's appropriate enough, given the modern mass media landscape. It's been a while since I've re-read this, but I recall it being very good, with Kesel's inking of in-his-prime John Byrne looking really great. This was also the first time, at least in my memory, of Darkseid and his crew taking on the DC Universe at large (well, there was a JLoA arc drawn in part by George Perez that probably pre-dates this), which gradually became a staple of DC Comics and associated media, to the point that Darkseid vs. The Justice League is kind of passe at this point.

I also recall thinking that the heroes coming together to save the day in the very last issue, the ones on the cover, would have made a damn fine Justice League line-up. And, in fact, seven of the 11 pictured did go on to form the core of the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire JLI...

Anyway, if you haven't read this, you totally should. It offers a pretty good snapshot of the DCU circa the mid-to-late '80s, and the start of several runs that would define the following years at the publisher.

On sale MAY 11 • 96 pg, FC, $7.99 US • RATED T
The legends continue with four acclaimed teams bringing you all-new thrills and adventure!
Metamorpho and Sapphire have been transported to another planet, one torn apart by war over the orb that gave Metamorpho his powers! Meanwhile, the alien criminal Kanjar Ro isn’t too far behind, planning to steal the orb by any means necessary.
Ronnie and Stein are back together as Firestorm! But as they struggle to work together again, Major Force shows up with nothing but punches and fists to the face—don’t miss this all-out action fight issue!
When an ex from Wonder Woman’s past threatens to expose their relationship on daytime television, Sugar & Spike are on the case! Will our heroes uncover the secret and horrible agenda that guides this menace’s hand before it’s too late?
Written by LEN WEIN
The Metal Men face off against a threat who might make them lose their breath and their chance for escape! Meanwhile, General Scaletti begins her own plan to capture the Metal Men!

I'm still pretty perplexed by the very existence of a "Sugar and Spike" feature in which the characters, whose defining characteristic is that they are babies, are grown-ups, but I do find it amusing tha "the ext from Wonder Woman's past"** here turns out to be the monster she almost married in Wonder Woman #155.

I wonder how this title will be collected? Will each feature get a trade of its own?

Ramon Bachs' cover for Robin: Son of Batman #12 promises a fight I never knew I wanted to see: Damian Wayne versus a T-Rex! (Or possibly an Allosaurus, or some other large, carnivorous theropod dinosaur; I'm not that particular.)

Written by MATT WAGNER
On sale JUNE 15 • 320 pg, FC, 7.0625” x 10.875” • $29.99 US • MATURE READERS
In these noir tales from SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #1-12, millionaire Wesley Dodds becomes the Sandman to fight injustice in 1930s New York City, going after kidnappers, blackmailers and predators who prey on rich socialites.

This is one of the all-time best superheroes-for-grown-ups comics, so if you've never read it any form before, this is probably a pretty greatformat to start with.

Cover by JIM LEE
Scooby-Doo variant cover by HOWARD PORTER
Shaggy variant cover by DAN PANOSIAN
Velma variant cover by BEN CALDWELL
Daphne variant cover by JOELLE JONES
Fred variant cover by NEAL ADAMS
On sale MAY 25 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with eight covers. Please see the order form for more information.
Those meddling kids—Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and their dog, Scooby-Doo—get more ghost-debunking than they bargained for when faced with a fundamental change in their world. The apocalypse has happened. Old rules about logic no longer apply. The creatures of the night are among us, and the crew of the Magical Mystery Machine has to fight to survive—because in the apocalyptic badlands of the near-future, the horrors are real!
This new monthly series takes Scooby and the gang to a whole new level and features character designs by comics superstar Jim Lee!

Because Jim Lee's greatest talents are his story-telling and character designs, here's a weird new take on the Scooby-Doo franchise featuring a story co-plotted by Jim Lee and character designs by Jim Lee!

My first thought upon seeing this cover was of Noelle Steven's far-superior, widely-circulated "Badass Scooby Gang" sketches from 2011 of or so (Yes, I saw them like five years ago and still remember them; that's how good they were). Not only are Stevenson's all-around cooler and more bad-ass, they're also truer to the spirit of the originals, while obviously going for a more mature, more modern tone and, well, if you just compare and contrast the tattoos on Lee's version vs. Stevenson's version, it's clear that one set of characters is more "cool dad" than just, you know, cool.

Wait, wait, wait...That's not true. That was not my first thought. My first thought was "WHAT???!!!" My second thought was "Uh-oh...or should I say 'Ruh-roh'...?" And then my third thought was of Stevenson's badass Scooby gang.

Of the Hanna-Barbera reboots announced thus far, this is the one I'm most primed to be interested in, being a life-long Scooby-Doo fan, but I can't help but recoil. Worse still, as bad as Lee's design-work might be, he is not–repeat not–actually drawing the interiors, which will be handled by Howard Porter, who is maybe even more ill-suited to the characters, regardless of their design.

While I was a fan of Porter's JLA (still one of my all-time favorite comics), he's spent the last decde or so getting particularly bum assignments from DC, doing fill-in work and the surprisingly bad Justice League 3000/Justice League 3001 with the Scooby Apocalypise scripting team of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis.

Ugh. Well, the good news? My expectations for this comic are so low, that I don't see how it can help but exceed them. Although, I thought the same thing about the DC Universe Vs. Masters of the Universe crossover, and that ended up being even worse than I feared. And who wrote that? Let's see, it was one...Mr. Keith Giffen.

Ruh-roh, indeed.

On sale JUNE 8 • 296 pg, FC, $19.99 US
In this new edition of DC classic, Brainiac invades the earth with his ultimate weapon—Warworld! With the help of Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and more, Superman must defend his adopted home. Collects ACTION COMICS #474-476, SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL #9-11, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #488-490 and SUPERMAN #65-67.

Hey, I liked this one a lot! Like Legends, I haven't revisited it in forever, but I recall it being jam-packed with guest-stars (some of which you see on the cover) to the extent that it had the cast and scope of a big, line-wide crossover story, but it played out quickly and in the relatively few pages of a handful of comics (as opposed to 20-some annuals and a book-end miniseries, as was in vogue at the time). That's a pretty high-caliber creative team too, so you get to see plenty of great artists in their prime drawing the hell out of much of the DC Universe as it existed at the time.

*As I've noted before, probably ad nauseum, one of the most perplexing aspects of The New 52 initiative was that it was a response to the DCU line as it existed, but when they announced all the re-booted titles, the exact same creators were still involved with the line, some of them simply shifted to new titles. The only influx of creators was that they got Spawn artist Greg Capullo to draw Batman (an excellent move, considering that books' rock-solid, super-high sales for well over four years now), and a coupla old-school Marvel writers, as if the real problem with the DC Universe was that Superman wore shorts, there were generations of heroes, there was a rich history of stories to build on and the lack of Scott Lobdell's input.

**Past? What past? This is The New 52! No one has a past!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: February 18th

Archie #6 (Archie Comics) Please allow me to once more voice my complaint about the variants adorning the two Archie series to have been "rebooted," Archie and Jughead. The cover I received was a perfectly great one by Derek Charm, showing off the entire cast of this issue (plus Kevin Keller, I think?). BUT! There was also a Marguerite Sauvage cover, which I only know because each issue of the series features a "cover gallery" showing you all the covers you could have gotten but didn't.

Again, the Charm cover is nice (so is is the Veronica Fish one), but man, why would anyone want anything other than a Sauvage cover, when there is the option of a Sauvage cover? I've said this before, but I'll repeat it here too, because I'm nothing if not repetitive. Comics that offer variants on a monthly basis generally convince me to not buy them serially/monthly, but instead wait for the trade collections, as the trades generally collect all of the covers, and then I need not worry about a Marguerite Sauvage-drawn Vernoica cover of Archie-shaped hole in my life, you know?

I'm not sure if Archie will collect all the variants when it finally makes it into trade–that may prove difficult, since the first issue did have several thousand different variants, but every working comics professional, at least by my count–so I'll stick with the monthlies of this and Jughead for now, but hey, something to keep in mind, People Who Publish Archie And Probably Don't Care What I Think Or Say Or Do.

This issue of Archie is, somewhat ironically, rather Archie-less, as he gets knocked out by a softball to the back of the head on page three, and doesn't really come out of it until page 19. Who fills all those other pages? Well, a boy shows interest in Betty, and Betty seems to be interested in him too, based on the little heart interior artist Fish draws when they meet (I don't know if Sayid Ali is a new character, or a reintroduced version of an old character; do any more experienced Archie readers know?), Reggie makes multiple moves on Veronica, and tries to ingratiate himself with Hiram Lodge. And there's even a pretty great Smithers/Reggie scene.

As writer Mark Waid usually manages on whatever he's writing, this issue demonstrates his skill at presenting stories that stand perfectly well on their own, with each issue more-or-less complete unto itself, while simultaneously advancing a more long-term plot.

Whatever one might feel about these characters and this publisher, there's really nothing negative one could say about the craft put into their construction: Archie is just all-around great comics.

Batman & Robin Eternal #20 (DC Comics) It's week's like this one–very light weeks, when there are hardly any comics on my pull-list–that I appreciate weekly series. Even if they're not always that good, and Batman & Robin Eternal usually isn't very good (although still head, shoulders and torso above Futures End), it's always there for you.

This is an extra fight-y issue, concluding the battle St. Hadrian's school for girls in England, secret base of super-spy agency Spyral. Mother released a viral mind control thingamajig that made all the kids want to kill all the adults, and the only way to effectively counter it was to expose oneself to Scarecrow fear gas. That didn't work on Harper Row so well last issue, as while the gas countered the kill virus, it made her want to kill Cassandra Cain, who she just learned was responsible for murdering her mom.

So the fighting. Harper vs. Cassandra and Red Hood (still not sure how Harper lasts ten seconds against Cass; maybe the fear gas is giving her adrenal powers...?), David Cain vs. The Lady Who Is Not The Huntress, Nightwing vs. Poppy, Red Robin and Dr. Netz (and supporting characters from the pages of Grayson) vs. mobs of students.

This issue, scripted by Tim Seeley from the James Tynion and Scott Snyder plot, has at least one interesting idea, in revealing how exactly Bertinelli planned to use Spyral's own orbital mind-control satellite (I'm not sure how that would work, given the fact that there were would still be electronic and written records, though; re-setting Grayson's secret identity, and Superman's while they're at it, are two big question marks that DC's writers and editors will have to find some incredibly creative solutions to in the near-ish future). There are also two steps forward in the plotting, one more interesting than the other. First, The Orphan makes off with Harper and Cassandra after the pair are rendered unconscious. Second, Damian and Goliath arrive, marking the first appearance of "the real Robin" in the pages of this series.

Damian generally makes any story he's in more interesting.

The art in this issue is by Roge Antonio and Geraldo Borges, and it's mostly legible without being very good. There are some basic, storytelling continuity errors, at least in terms of causation, where I would find myself noticing that, say, suddenly there was water all over the place, and then flipping back to see when the sprinkler system turned on and why, and so on.

Lumberjanes #23 (Boom Studios) Say, has Lumberjanes ever had a cover that accurately reflected the story inside it? I'm not sure, because this is another book that seems to have more than one cover every month, but I can't recall the last time that I brought home an issue and found the cover had anything at all to do with the interiors. Even the story arc featuring the mermaids; several of those issues had mer-people on the covers, but they were completely different mer-people than the ones on the insides of the book.


Anyway, this issue continues the Shannon Waters and Kat Leyh-written, Carey Pietsch-drawn story arc about Seafarin' Karen, The Selkies and Whatever Is Up With The Water. It appears that the problems the two-sides of the shape-changing cold war weren't caused by either side, but has something to do with that weird, dinosaur-filled dimension that the Bear Lady seems to be able to come and go from.

There is therefore a bit of movement on the Seriously, What's Up With These Woods? mega-plot, but just a step or two.

As with most of the last 15 or so issues of the series, this one is perfectly well put-together, but not exactly a knock-your-socks-off kinda comic. There's nothing wrong with its craft, and it's fun to read, it's just not, like, a book I feel like jumping up and down after reading, or forcing into the hands of random passersby the way I do some other monthly comics, you know?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Marvel's May previews reviewed

Come May, the Deadpool movie will be three months old, but one wouldn't know it based on Marvel's solicitations for the month. In addition to plenty of collections (including "Minibus" collections), there will be six issues of new serially published comic book starring Deadpool, including two issues of the regular Deadpool ongoing, an issue of Spider-Man/Deadpool, the penultimate installment of the mini-series Deadpool & The Mercs for Money and one-shots Deadpool: The Last Days of Magic and Deadpool: Massacre. He's also appearing regularly in Uncanny Avengers for some reason, and spin-off character of sorts Gwenpool gets a one-shot. That's...that's just a lot of Deadpool.

I saw the movie this past weekend and liked it just fine, but I'm still rather perplexed by the direct market's seemingly inexhaustible appetite for new Deadpool comics. I mean, at this point, Marvel will be publishing more comics branded "Deadpool" than they will be those branded either "X-Men" (five; All-New X-Men, Extraordinary X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever and X-Men '92) or "Avengers" (three; All-New, All-Different Avengers, New Avengers and Uncanny Avengers).

Also of note, Marvel seems fully prepared to exploit the popularity of May the 4th with a ton of specially-priced, $1 reprints of various Star Wars comics, which should serve as excellent gateways into their Star Wars collections.

For a full run-down of what Marvel intends to publish in May of this year, I'd recommend you check out this post at Comics Alliance. For a few highlights and pithy comments from me on some of the things that Marvel intends to publish in May of this year, I'd recommend you stay right here.

Cover by ALEX ROSS
New Story Starts NOW!
• Introducing the all-new Wasp! Who is she? What is she? And what does she intend to do about Earth's Mightiest Heroes?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Who is she? I don't know, but I hear she's not Janet Van Dyne! What is she? I don't know; a new legacy character of one of the founding Avengers? WHat does she intend to do about Earth's Mightiest Heroes? I don't know, but I'd guess join them...?

I guess I'll have to read this comic–or, the trade collection of it, if I'm being honest–some day to find out!

I do know that I don't really care for her costume here, and given that this is an Alex Ross painting of it, if it doesn't look that great on this cover, chances are it's gonna look worse almost everywhere else.

That said, I don't think I've ever really liked any of The Wasp's costumes, and she's certainly had 30 or 40 much worse costumes than the one above, so, on the scale of Wasp costume awful-ness, I guess this not-that-great costume is maybe one of the better ones...?

A compendium of classic, character-driven drama written and drawn by the king of crime, Brian Michael Bendis! What brings David Goldfish, an enigmatic grifter with a heart of gold, back to his old haunts -- where his old flame practically runs the city's underbelly, and his ex-partner-in-crime is now a police detective? Who is the bounty hunter Jinx Alameda, and what treasure is she hunting? How will she get drawn into Eliot Ness's real-life pursuit of one of America's most notorious serial killers? Plus: Bendis draws from real life in a compelling exploration of the complex world of international intelligence! For fans of powerful, modern takes on pulp fiction and true-world crime stories, it doesn't come any better than Bendis! Collecting AKA GOLDFISH: ACE, JACK, QUEEN, KING and JOKER; JINX #1-5; FIRE #1-2; and JINX: TORSO #1-6.
1152 PGS./Mature ...$125.00
ISBN: 978-1-302-90159-2
Trim size: oversized

This is interesting. I haven't read all of these; in fact, I think a handful, but I'm fairly certain that these are all of Brian Michael Bendis' pre-Marvel, self-published crime comics, written and drawn when he was still in his hometown of Cleveland. That's a very high price point, even for over 1,000-pages worth of comics, but this is probably the easiest way to get all of those comics at once.

Anyway, I'm just pointing this out because I'm a little surprised to see it show up here. At this point, has Marvel collected just about every single comic work Bendis has ever done, save maybe some of the Spawn stuff he did between these comics and Ultimate Spider-Man #1...?

He's back! The original Sentinel of Liberty returns, with a new shield, a new team, and a new mission! And he's not the only one who's back! Like the saying goes-- cut off one LIMB, two more will take its place! HAIL HYDRA!
40 PGS./Rated T+ ...$4.99


So, a couple of things here:

1.)  Jesus Saiz is an excellent choice for a Captain America comic, but Nick Spencer wouldn't have been a name I would have ever thought of attaching to the character...which makes him a very interesting, very exciting choice (Spencer is, of course, an excellent writer, but his previous output has tended toward the quirky, which one doesn't usually associate with Captain America).

2.) I find it odd that Marvel will be publishing two books both entitled "Captain America" this May, distinguished by the secret identity of the star, which is included in the title of the book. I wonder if the launch of this book, and Rogers' apparent return to the role and to his youth, means that Sam Wilson's days as Captain America are numbered, and thus the number of issues left of Captain America: Sam Wilson are numbered as well.

3.) I did the new costume, particularly the new color scheme, and really like the new version of the original shield.

Speaking of Captain America: Sam Wilson, here's Angel Unzueta's cover for May's ninth issue of hte series. I recognize Sam and Misty Knight. I'm assuming that's Redwing, all kitted out like Zoar from the Masters of The Universe toy line, and is the guy with the beard supposed to be Demolition Man/D-Man...?

That's awesome! But why isn't he wearing his Wolverine hat? He should totally be wearing his Wolverine hat. Especially now that (a) Logan is dead and the yellow and brown hat currently retired. Now is D-Man's chance to make that hat his own! (Also, if there was a guy who was dressed almost identically to the 1980s Wolverine on the cover, it might trick a few readers  into accidentally buying Captain America: Sam Wilson #9!

From the creative team that brought you House of M and Siege comes a blistering first chapter in Marvel's new explosive event. Watch as the players are introduced and the table is set for a storyline that fans will be talking about for years.
40 PGS./Rated T+ ...$4.99

Oof. Did Marvel really just name check their two worst crossover/event stories while trying to sell their next one? House of M and Siege were both just awful, even by the relatively low standards of the Bendis-written crossover/event stories, which are generally much more poorly written by the crossover/event stories by just about everyone else.

I'm very curios about the premise of this series, because it doesn't seem like it can parallel that of the original all that closely, for a variety of reasons. I do hope the characters above don't represent the two "sides" of the conflict, because Captain America vs. Iron Man is a hell of a lot more compelling than Iron Man and She-Hulk vs. War Machine and Captain Marvel...

A simple change of venues for one of Matt Murdock's cases becomes more complicated when THE PUNISHER attempts to send the defendant away...permanently! If DAREDEVIL and BLINDSPOT want to get this mobster his day in court, it will take every ounce of wit and wile they have. All Frank needs to get what he wants is a bullet. The race is on!
40 PGS./Rated T+ ...$4.99

Wait, shouldn't they have scheduled this to launch next month, in March, when the new season of Daredevil, which will apparently be chockfull of The Punisher, is released on Netflix...?

If you're tempted to read this, be sure you pay close attention to the credits. That cover is by Reilly Brown, and while it looks fine, Brown is not the person drawing the interiors. That would be Szymon Kudranski, and if his work on this series is anything at all like his work on previous Batman comics for Marvel's Distinguished Competition, than this should be a repulsive, illegible comic full of laughably embarrassing lapses in the fundamentals of comic book storytelling, and should probably be avoided at all costs.

But don't worry. Marvel is collecting the David Lapham Daredevil/Punisher miniseries from a few years back, and that is also in this round of solicits.

Hey look, there's a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the cover of May's issue of Howard The Duck! That means there will be two comics with theropod dinosaurs on the cover in May, counting Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur!

Man, I really like that Daredevil costume. I wish that was what the Netflix Daredevil was wearing, as it seems like such a nice compromise between his all black, pre-DD costume and actual Daredevil costume. I really enjoyed that first season...right up until the moment he put on his goofy-looking costume...

Watch creative worlds collide like never before in the ultimate fusion of hip-hop and the House of Ideas! With an introduction by award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates -- a National Book Award winner, a recent MacArthur Genius Grant recipient and the writer of Marvel's BLACK PANTHER -- this stunning volume showcases 70 comic-book covers inspired by some of the most iconic albums in music history. Experience page after page of incredible artwork featuring the heroes of the All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe -- from A-Force to the X-Men -- by an unbelievable roster of talent including Adam Hughes, Brian Stelfreeze, Jim Cheung, Mike Del Mundo, Sanford Greene, Jenny Frison, Phil Noto, Mahmud Asrar, Damion Scott, Tim Bradstreet, Keron Grant and Ed Piskor. Their finished covers sit side-by-side with behind-the-scenes sketches, showing the process of rendering some of the most famous images in hip-hop, Marvel style. Straight outta comics -- and on to your bookshelf!
168 PGS./Rated T+ ...$34.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90233-9

Well, here's a head-scratcher. I know I've often remarked that I wouldn't mind collections of certain themed variants–like all of those Darwyn Cooke covers for DC, for example–but whenever I say that,  I'm thinking of a comic book-format collection, not a fucking $35 dollar hardcover.

Although I suppose if you think of this as an art book rather than a comics collection, than maybe that's not a bad price point for, like, a coffee table book. Still, I was really surprised to see this show up in the solicits.

She's your new favorite. She's everyone's new favorite. And now she's joining the big leagues. Look out world, Kamala Khan is an Avenger! But is she really cut out to be one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes? Saving the world is important, but Jersey City still needs its protector -- and a development company that co-opted Ms. Marvel's face for its project has more in mind for gentrification than just real estate! Can Kamala take down the evil suits destroying her home without ruining her grades and personal life? Speaking of which, who exactly is that with Bruno? And when Kamala creates an army of automatons to help her fight crime, will she learn that too much Ms. Marvel is actually a bad thing? Get back on board, Kamala Korps, the ride is about to get wild! Collecting MS. MARVEL (2015) #1-6.
136 PGS./Rated T+ ...$17.99
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9611-2

Whew! I'm relieved to see that even if Marvel did renumber Ms. Marvel after Secret Wars with a new #1, they didn't also reset the numbering of the trades, so that, unlike Mark Waid's Daredevil, someone who wants to read Ms. Marvel in trade won't have such a hard time figuring out which books to read in which order.

If Unbeatable Squirrel Girl isn't the best Marvel comic, then Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat is. In fact, I can't think of anyway that they could possibly improve Patsy, unless they, I don't know, put Hercules in it.


Written by KATE LETH
Patsy Walker has managed to escape her past, her enemies and Hell itself (literally) -- but nothing compares to job hunting in New York City! Between trying to make rent and dodging bullets, she barely has time to deal with her mother's exploitative romance comics about Patsy's past resurfacing, much less how they start to interfere with her work and dating life. As she goes from living a double life to living a triple one, what the Hell is Patsy supposed to do? There'll be burgers, monsters and rent checks; old friends like Howard the Duck and Valkyrie; and a ghost from the past with questionable motives! Comics' most flexible heroine has been a provisional Avenger, a Defender, Satan's daughter-in-law and a dead woman -- but she's never been anything like this! Collecting PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT! #1-5.
112 PGS./Rated T ...$15.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90035-9

Seriously, this is the best. If you didn't buy the single issues–and I don't blame you; comics are expensive–then you'll definitely want to read this. It's perfect. Er,  I mean, purrr-fect. No, let's just stick with "perfect."

I thought the sub-title of this collection was particularly clever, but then I remember that the lyric "hooked on a feeling" is so closely associated with the Marvel Cinematic Universe at this point, that it sorta ruins the joy the forced nature of pun instilled in me.

Cover by Declan Shalvey
A by-the-numbers drug bust is about to take Frank Castle by surprise...and he HATES surprises. The horrible fallout threatens to send The Punisher into the heart of darkness, but Castle won't make that journey alone: A DEA agent is on his trail and attempting to get into his head...but what horrors will she find there, and will she survive the experience? First-time Punisher writer Becky Cloonan and quintessential Punisher artist Steve Dillon are forcing Frank Castle out of his comfort zone and taking him to the edge of the world he thought he knew!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99

Again, this seems like a comic that should be shipping in March, rather than May, but whatever. That's a very interesting creative team, including the artist responsible for maybe the single best Punisher story ever, and a writer I wouldn't have expected to ever see writing this character, at least not based on any of her previous writing.

Cloonan's one of those folks who I always get a little bummed out to see writing a comic though, because she's such a great artist that I'd prefer to see her writing and drawing The Punisher than just doing the former; hopefully she'll do some variants, or maybe a single-issue story somewhere down the road...

Cute cover, although I don't think the fish add anything.

Damn, Mike Allred drew the living hell out of this cover. I'm assuming those people are all real people, based on how specific they all look. I didn't study it very long, but Tom Brevoort jumped out at me, due to his stupid hat. I hope the issue has a letters page with, like, a key to who all those folks are.

• Miles is just finding his feet in the all new marvel universe; the media is growing obsessed with his skin color and now he has to share his own book with a hot new mutant who goes by the name of... wait for it...
• All this and the Queenpin of New York, the Black Cat, has set her sights on this new Spider-Man. She has put out a hit on his head and now no one is safe!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99

Wait, cat-themed sometimes villain, sometimes vigilante The Black Cat is the "Queenpin" of crime in New York City now? Just like cat-themed sometimes villain, sometimes vigilante Catwoman was the head of organized crime in Gotham City for a while?


When I first saw this cover and noticed Squirrel Girl was wearing gray and black instead of her regularly-colored costume, I wondered if she had joined X-Force, but then I remembered that was like three X-Forces or so ago.

X-MEN ‘92 #3
• If you only buy one X-book this month...
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99

Given that this is a Chris Sims co-written comic, I guess we shouldn't be surprised that Dracula is in it. We should instead be surprised that it took this long for Dracula to be in it.